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A bad time for uncertainty on forest protection in Brazil

Forests are home to as much as 90% of the world’s land-based animal and plant life. They directly provide food, shelter, fuel, and a source of income to the 1.6 billion people whose livelihoods depend on them. And forests also benefit our environment by regulating the climate and water cycles and preventing soil erosion.

But the world’s forests are in crisis. Humanity is now using 50% more resources than the Earth can provide, according to WWF’s recently released 2012 Living Planet Report. And the consequences are plain to see in ongoing deforestation to the tune of 13 million hectares each year.

Amid dire news for the well-being of people and nature, there have been notable conservation successes in recent years that demonstrate alternatives to ‘business as usual’. Brazil, for example, has made stunning progress over the past decade reducing deforestation in the Amazon. This was achieved while growing the economy, making Brazil an exemplar among emerging economies.

But now, just as Brazil prepares to take centre stage at Rio+20, the nation’s vast forests may be back on the chopping block.

On 25th May, Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff decided to approve the majority of a hugely controversial revision to the country’s long-standing forest legislation. The changes, passed by the Brazilian Congress last month, would severely weaken the nation’s Forest Code, which is meant to protect sensitive forest areas and guard against rampant deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere.

Brazil’s Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) estimated that the new legislation could lead to the loss of up to 76.5 million hectares of forest, which translates to 28 billion tonnes of added CO2 in the atmosphere, making it impossible for Brazil to reach its carbon reduction targets.

Despite massive national and international social mobilisation in favour of a full veto, President Rousseff opted to reject only 12 of 84 articles in the bill. This attempt to break up elements of an already complicated piece of legislation will make the revised Forest Code extraordinarily difficult to implement – and Brazil's forests may well suffer as a result.

WWF Director General Jim Leape says: “For the last decade, Brazil has been on a path of economic and environmental progress. President Rousseff’s statement creates an uncertain future for Brazilian forests, considering that Congress could still cut forest protections even further”.

The findings of the Living Planet Report show that humanity is squandering the very resources we depend on for survival. It offers both the reasons humanity needs to change course, and the steps we can take today to live within the Earth’s ecological limits.

WWF believes that the world community must use the Rio Conference to declare its recognition of the global importance of forests, including their significance for both climate and biodiversity, and should back this up by addressing the causes of deforestation, and through agreeing financial mechanisms to ensure that forests are worth more standing than they are destroyed.